Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Jay Paterno pens passionate Facebook post defending late father

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 26: Jay Paterno, son of Joe Paterno, pauses during his speech during a public memorial for former Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State, January 26, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno, who was 85, died due to complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s become crystal clear at this point there is nothing anyone can do, no arranging of words, no stacking of facts, witnesses and testimony, that can change the mind of Joe Paterno‘s supporters. Perhaps a video recording of Paterno admitting he knew of Jerry Sandusky‘s crimes and did nothing to stop them, but maybe not even then.

Leading that pack is the late coach’s family, and chief among them his son and former assistant coach Jay Paterno.

Following new allegations against Penn State uncovered in an insurance suite that came to light on Thursday, the younger Paterno issued a blistering defense of his father. (Hat tip to our own Kevin McGuire for capturing it.)

It’s unclear as of yet how the testimony will affect the insurance suit against Penn State, but one thing that is apparent is the arguing over Paterno’s involvement in the affair and the subsequent affect on his legacy will continue for years to come.

Depositions to begin soon in John Chavis-LSU suit

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 5:  Defensive coordinator John Chavis of the LSU Tigers looks on during pre-game warm-up against the Washington Huskies on September 5, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The LSU Tigers defeated the Washington Huskies 31-23. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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LSU got the best of John Chavis on the field in November, but the former Tigers defensive coordinator could gain revenge in the court room.

According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, Chavis has turned over phone records from November 2014 through Feb. 13, 2015, the key period in detailing whether Chavis violated his contract agreement with LSU in leaving for a lateral position with Texas A&M. At stake is a $400,000 buyout the school says it is owed.

LSU contends Chavis started working for the Aggies before his contract expired on Jan. 31, 2015, a stance seemingly buoyed by the fact Chavis was photographed in Aggie gear while on recruiting trips with A&M coaches.

Chavis filed a countersuit in Texas alleging the school owes him more than $200,000 in unpaid vacation wages and $400,000 in bonuses. Chavis also accused LSU of altering his contract after he signed it — which the school admitted, though in a “nominal” way.

Should the case go to trial, LSU administrators and coaches could be deposed, which every media member in the country should actively root for. Considering the last such suit led to Charlie Strong forgetting his own quarterback’s name and Texas assistants contradicting each other on the stand during Oklahoma State’s similar suit with its former offensive line coach Joe Wickline, LSU coaches and Chavis hitting the stand could lead to absolute gold.

Ex-Vandy RB Brian Kimbrow now an ex-MTSU RB, too

Brian Kimbrow
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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Brian Kimbrow? Or maybe there’ll be no third time, period?

That appears to be the case Kimbrow confirmed to Rivals.com earlier this week that he has walked away from the Middle Tennessee State football team. Not only that, but the running back has walked away from the sport, period.

“I just didn’t love football like I used to and wanted to focus on school and my forensics career,” Kimbrow told the recruiting website. “Just burned out for real.”

Kimbrow began his collegiate career at Vanderbilt as a four-star recruit in 2012. He ran for 748 yards and six touchdowns his first two seasons with the Commodores before he was indefinitely suspended early on in the 2014 season for conduct detrimental to the team. A month later, the then-junior was dismissed from the Vandy football program.

Kimbrow joined MTSU as a graduate transfer earlier this year and participated in spring practice with his new Blue Raiders teammates.

James Pierre, three-star 2016 signee, given release from UNC

5 Sep 1998:  General view of the mascot for the North Carolina Tar Heels displayed during the game against the Miami Ohio Redhawks at the Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Redhawks defeated the Tar Heels 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Chris Cova
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Once at 26, North Carolina’s 2016 recruiting class has been pared by one.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, 2016 signee James Pierre has been given a release from the National Letter of Intent he signed with UNC.  The recruiting website reports that Pierre was denied admissions by the university, leading to his full release.

Because he has not attended any classes at UNC, Pierre would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS program.  He’d then have the standard five years to use four seasons of eligibility.

A three-star 2016 recruit, Pierre was rated as the No. 48 safety in the country.  In addition to UNC, Pierre held scholarship offers from, among others, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.